New Scientist: Keeping the Faith

Reading this week’s New Scientist, I came across two book reviews on The Ravenous Brain by Daniel Bor and  Science Set Free, by Rupert Sheldrake. I have read neither of these books but the reviews are informative.

The first book is a contribution to the debate, ‘Is consciousness separate from the physical world, or an illusion conjured up by our brains?’. Evidently his father’s stoke convinced Bor which side he was on. The reviewer states that seeing his father robbed of his identity by a blood clot in the brain ‘hammered home all too well that the mind really is the output of nothing more than a small sac of jelly’. This quote is from the review, by the way, not the book.

That’ll be that then. A man gets a stroke, loses his faculties, and there is only one (true) conclusion to be drawn. If I smash my television the only conclusion I can draw is that the television station doesn’t exist. Of course there is no arguing the point; it is taken as self-evident and obvious.

In his book Sheldrake evidently argues that, ‘while materialism was once useful, it has hardened into dogmas that are holding knowledge back.’ (Again, reviewer’s statement). Sheldrake calls for ‘radical scepticism’, and the need for us to abandon assumptions like, for example, matter is unconscious, the laws of nature are fixed, minds are confined to brains, and that psychic phenomena don’t exist. The reviewer accuses Sheldrake of ‘uncritically embracing all kinds of fringe ideas, from parapsychology and eastern mysticism to his pet hypothesis of morphic resonance.’

‘Radical Scepticism’ for the reviewer looks like ‘woolly credulousness’.

So there you have it again- if you don’t toe the party line, you are seen not as a true sceptic, but as gullible and credulous. Beware ‘eastern mysticism’ and other ‘fringe ideas’, lock up your daughters and shield your children’s ears so that the self-evident truth can be protected from radical and probably dangerous ideas. This is exactly what I grew up with in the Catholic Church. At that time Science was riding in on a white horse to save us from dogma and superstition.

It didn’t take it long to turn into its own form of the Spanish Inquisition.